Friday, 1 November 2019

Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening ★★★★☆

While film remakes will always be a source of much contention and debate in the world, I think we can (mostly) agree that a gaming remake can only be a good thing. Nine times out of ten, a gaming remake will retain all everything that made an iconic game what it is – while updating graphics and gameplay with modern technology to bring the game into the current generation. Back in 1993, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening hit the Nintendo Gameboy and was the first of many handheld Zelda adventures. Over 25 years later, the game has found itself given a complete graphical overhaul for the Nintendo Switch.

While the original Link’s Awakening still holds up remarkably well as a lush and well-designed adventure game – revisiting gameplay to prepare for this review warmed my heart and filled me with nostalgia – this new version takes everything that worked and improves it, resulting in an absolute delight of a game. Certainly one of the stranger games in the Zelda universe, this quirky adventure is unique in that Princess Zelda isn’t even in it. Not only that, but the entire tale isn’t set in Hyrule. We begin the adventure with Link washing up ashore on Koholint Isle, a bizarre place with a bloody massive egg atop a mountain being the island’s main landmark. 

But despite this bizarre setting, the gameplay itself is still unmistakably Zelda. Expect spades of monster fighting, dungeon exploring and puzzle-solving. But while the original monochrome version on Gameboy couldn’t quite give the quirkiness the visual flair it needed, the Switch delivers a beautifully colourful and cartoonish coat of paint. The toy-ish characters are adorable, while the game’s world is so utterly filled with fresh detail and charm that it feels like a brand new game. The game is still dialogue-free but the original game’s musical score has been faithfully rejigged with an orchestra to sound fresh and new.

But the main thing with any remastered or remade game is – does it still feel the same? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding yes. While the graphics have obviously been totally overhauled, the level design is very faithful and the gameplay is the same, except for some very basic control changes due to the Switch having far more buttons than the old GameBoy! I am amazed at how many of the levels I could remember from my youth, even looking at their overhauled version. This game is a charmingly nostalgic and delightful experience from top to bottom.

It’s quite telling and certainly an indication of the original game’s quality when the only real flaw in this update is the only major addition that wasn’t found in the original! Chamber Dungeons, an optional feature, is a dungeon designer that feels like a missed opportunity. The options are rather limited and beating the dungeons you’ve made yourself is a rather dull endeavour. Other mini-games include the returning fishing and crane catcher distractions from the original, alongside a seashell-collecting side mission that encourages exploration of Koholint Island.

At the end of the day, Link’s Awakening is exactly what it says on the tin. Those familiar with the original game will surely be delighted with the fresh look and feel of the iconic adventure, while newcomers to the saga will find this a delightfully warm-hearted introduction to the beloved franchise. This one has made me feel like a little kid again and I loved revisiting Link’s first handheld adventure 25 years on.

Sam Love

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